Review: Portishead – Third

Great albums though they were, Portishead’s first two records were associated with coffee houses and James Bond themes as much as the cutting edge of trip-hop and torch songs. Clearly the Bristol trio (and one presumes Geoff Barrow in particular) have done as much as they can to distance themselves from ideas of popularity by creating a record designed to gain a reaction, one way or another.

Granted, ‘Third’ is often provocative but it’s also tender and not as scary as some critics would have you believe. Beth Gibbons remains the constant; her vocal performances don’t differ drastically from the first two albums. This is definitely not a criticism, more an indication that this is still very much a Portishead record. Where ‘Third’ does differ is in its uncompromising arrangements.

Opener ‘Silence’ is one of quite a few tracks to use similar primal percussion techniques to 1960’s electronic pioneers Silver Apples; a tactic repeated on ‘We Carry On’. Songs tend to range between the spare, folky likes of ‘Hunter’ and ‘Deep Water’ and harsh, industrially-infused music (‘Machine Gun’) and sometimes they include both styles (‘Small’ being a fine case in point).

Elsewhere ‘The Rip’ flows surprisngly well, not unlike Goldfrapp in fact. ‘Plastic’ incorporates what sounds like rotating helicopter blades whilst Gibbons wails despairingly against a wall of drones; if there is one track which could have appeared on a previous album, this is the one. Another highlight is the stunning closer ‘Threads’ where Gibbons is at her most forlorn as sinister strings, stuttering percussion and a murky guitar figure hammer home a bleak but brilliant finale.

With ‘Third’, Portishead may have discarded the trip-hop stylings of yore but – fourteen years since landmark record ‘Dummy’ – they have set a new agenda and one which many of their contemporaries may follow again. Although initially uncertain about it, it’s also an album I have learned to appreciate more and more upon each listen.

Web Sites:
Portishead Official Site
Portishead MySpace

Further Listening:
Silver Apples, Goldfrapp

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